End front-page falsehoods and regain the public’s trust | Alan Rusbridger

The Guardian Opinions 1 month ago

The postmortem on how we got ourselves into this mess will be long and complex. But at its heart will lie this simple proposition: good democracy relies on good information.

What does “good information” look like? We might say: information that is not only true but also believed. And therein lies the problem. We’re no longer very willing to believe almost anybody. Most surveys of trust find very little faith in what government or politicians tell us. But there are also extraordinarily low levels of trust in most media. Nearly two-thirds of people say they can no longer tell good journalism from rumour or falsehoods. This is, to put it mildly, a disaster. Into this vacuum of unbelief and mistrust step liars and peddlers of fantasies. By all means call another referendum or election, but what makes anyone confident that the electorate will make a “better” decision than last time round? And I don’t just mean Brexit.

If you are going to put a crucial decision on the future of Britain to a vote of citizens it’s pretty obvious what the proper function of the press should be: to arm them with unvarnished facts on both sides of the argument. We might add: don’t pretend a complex question is a simple one. And: by all means tell us your own view, but save that until you’ve given us the facts.

For the past four years – you might say much longer – this is not how much of the British press has behaved. Several newspapers have done the opposite. They pretended Europe was a really simple question. They did not bother to present both sides of the argument. And they appeared overwhelmingly keener on shouting their own views before presenting straight news.

The prime minister himself is at the heart of this story. His Brussels years of ever more inventive Euro “scoops” morphed into years as editor and columnist in the service of the tax-shy Barclay brothers. The Telegraph reciprocated by becoming Johnson’s greatest cheerleader in his rhetoric-over-evidence rush to lead a do-or-die Brexit. Today it’s often hard to tell whether he thinks he’s dashing off a column or governing the country.

But there will, in time, be so much more to examine. The then proprietor of the Express, a former pornographer, writing a cheque for £1m to Nigel Farage at the start of the referendum campaign – thereby effectively signalling the end of the Express as a newspaper. The Sun printing a BeLeave in Britain poster – and duly having to register it as a £97,000 donation to the Leave campaign. Why should the public trust “proper” news when journalists turn propagandists?

And then the bullying. The front-page exhortations to “crush the saboteurs”, the denunciations of the “enemies of the people” and the Brexit mutineers. “Dissident” MPs displayed like targets on front pages as though the murder of one of their colleagues counted for nothing. And, lately, the persistent anonymous feeding of anonymous No 10 titbits to journalists, who breathlessly rush them on to Twitter with barely a care as to whether they’re actually true.

We could add the mirroring of the current crude demotic political discourse. Quentin Letts, moonlighting in the Sun when he is not entertaining Times readers, calls Lady Hale a “beady-eyed old nanny goat”. Why?

Letts went to a decent private school, attended two world-class universities and – when not putting the boot into people who do not conform with his own idea of what the establishment should look like – leads a bucolic life as a deputy church warden in Herefordshire. In the past such figures would have seen it as their role to help people without their privilege to become better informed. Now, Dacre-trained in attack dog menace, he pulls on his bovver boots and joins them.

Posh boys being populist is one of the hallmarks of the current state we’re in. Etonians, unironically, give a kicking to “the elites” with a winking eye on next day’s tabloid headlines. Oxford graduates sneer at experts. Dominic Cummings (private school and Oxford) holds most manifestations of post-Enlightenment values in contempt. Letts lets rip with his own form of class war.

The new elitism is a deadly form of condescension. Sun readers aren’t there to be informed. Entertained, yes. Inflamed, yes. Infuriated: certainly. But not well informed.

Interestingly, the Mail, under a new editor, is quietly turning itself into a much more nuanced paper, willing to do justice to more than one side of an argument. An editorial on Hale was notably reasonable – miles away from the finger-jabbing fury of the previous regime. Sales seem to be holding up just fine (and, I’m told, more than 200 advertisers have returned ).

Most foot soldiers in journalism do the job because they absolutely believe in the role of good information in good democracies. Something is stopping them: and the sooner we can fix that the better.

Alan Rusbridger, a former editor-in-chief of the Guardian, is principal of Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford and chairs the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Source link
Read also:
The Boston Globe › 5 days ago
Trump makes falsehoods central to impeachment defense as incriminating evidence mounts
Forbes › 2 weeks ago
I’ve lost count of the number of surveys that report on a public lack of trust in banks. And pretty much every single one of them is wrong. Of course people trust banks. The problem many people have with banks is not that they don’t trust them, it...
Chicago Tribune › Opinions › 1 month ago
“Trust is not gained back readily,” board member Delores Woods said. “We didn’t lose it overnight, and we are not going to get it back easily, either.”
Forbes › 1 month ago
The concept of Zero Trust Architecture (also known as Zero Trust Networking) operates under the idea that no one system should inherently trust any other system.
Forbes › 2 weeks ago
If building trust within a team is difficult, building trust within a remote team can truly be a herculean task. Four leaders share their recommended techniques for building trust without the benefit of geographic proximity.
Chronicle Live › Sports › 1 week ago
Newcastle United's all-time top goalscorer Alan Shearer hails the impact of the Magpies' front three as he analyses the win at West Ham
The Sun › Sports › 1 month ago
A NEW series of The Apprentice has started, with former Spurs chairman Alan Sugar firing or hiring gurning, gormless proteges who have inflated opinions of themselves. It helps cast my mind back to mine and Alan’s hiring of football managers. Alan...
The Sun › Lifestyle › 1 week ago
ALAN Carr has opened up about Adele’s appearance at his wedding – but refused to reveal what song she performed. The comedian, who got married to Paul Drayton in 2018, appeared on Chris Evans’ Virgin Radio breakfast show today. Alan, 43...
The Inquisitr › 5 days ago
Solange Knowles is addressing the allegations that she left her soon-to-be-ex-husband Alan Ferguson for her current manager. The “Don’t Touch My Hair” singer used her Instagram page to address the rumors that she and her manager, John Boggard...
The New York Times › Sports › 3 weeks ago
James Neal and Ethan Bear scored, Mikko Koskinen made 25 saves and the Edmonton Oilers beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on Friday night to regain sole possession of the overall NHL lead.
Sign In

Sign in to follow sources and tags you love, and get personalized stories.

Continue with Google